Archive for October, 2013


Malaysia NEEDS freedom from many evils which includes corruption, social evils, red-tapism, crime, fundamentalism, pseudo-secularism and many such other aspects which are deep-rooted in our system. But suggesting the elimination of all or any of these handicaps is just hypothetical in a present-days political system.

What we actually need to do is to get freedom from the present breed of politicians, who instead of using politics as a tool to serve people, would rather run politics as business for minting money by be-fooling the public.

Sabah missed a great opportunity to become the State Flagship in the cattle and dairy industry due to a major blunder in decision-making when Salleh Said Keruak was Chief Minister and Datuk Lajim Ukin the State Agriculture Minister.

Sabah government had a cattle farm in Darwin Australia and the state had actually reached 100 percent self-sufficiency in the production of such meats in 1998. At that time, the commercial cattle farm was owned by Desa Cattle Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Village Development Corporation (KPD) that was operating in Mesilau, Sook and in Darwin, Australia. Then Salleh Said Keruak and Lajim Ukin decided to sell the farm in Darwin Australia and also sold remaining thousands of acres of Desa Cattle land in Sabah to Kim Loong a West Malaysia group.

When the farm in Darwin Australia was closed in 2002, the remaining thousands of acres in Sabah too shrunk beyond recognition, the latter through the controversial sale involving Kim Loong the West Malaysian group. It is understood that the controversial deals occurred during the chief ministership of Salleh Said Keruak and when Lajim Ukin was State Agriculture Minister. Now Lajim is saying the sale went through the state Cabinet and that he should not be the one to answer for it.

As a result of the said controversial acquisitions, Desa Cattle land shrunk to a measly thousand acres in Keningau and Kundasang. The Austalian Government has since banned the acquisition of lands for cattle farming. It is so sad to see all that precious land sold. Kim Loong the West Malaysian group made huge profits from the land over the years by converting it to oil palm cultivation.

Because of this silly decision, now, Sabah is no more self-sufficient in beef, mutton and buffalo meat production had declined by 13 percent the following year after the controversial deal, that causes the state to import frozen beef from Australia and New Zealand, and frozen buffalo meat from India to meet the need for the commodity til today.

Desa Cattle a brainchild of Former Chief Minister Tan Sri Harris Salleh was a brilliant idea to see Sabah to be self-sufficient in dairy and meat, but within a period of 15 years, politicians having their own agenda just destroyed it.

This controversial deal between KPD Holdings, the State Government and the management Group calls for declassifying the documents on these deals that lead to massive losses of far greater magnitude than the on-going case of National Feedlot Corportation (NFC), another “lembu” business. How was the Management Group allowed to allegedly siphon and squander millions of ringgit and freely allowed to sell vast acreage of state land in Sabah and in Australia among many other deals, without honoring the agreement?

The West Malaysian group Kim Loong acquired close to 17,700 acres of the cattle land in Sook, Keningau on a 49/51 % joint venture arrangement. How much monetary benefits and dividends did Desa receive since the joint venture went into effect? What was the consideration and was a proper valuation done to ascertain the worth of the valuable land? Under whose name is the ownership of the land now? Was the land charged to any financial institutions? If so, for how much and for what purpose?

Then there was this mysterious death of the last General Manager whose body was found by the roadside near the Desa Cattle Sook office. Why was a report not made on this mysterious death connected to the controversial deal?

So many unanswered questions! And hardly any answers to follow suit!

The corporate mastermind of this financial fiasco and several other people involved had the audacity to make inroads into politics. Some of those who were privy to the controversial deals may still be in the management of Desa. They should be hauled up by the authorities over the many unanswered questions, including the death of the last General Manager so that the ghost of Desa Cattle can be put to rest.

It is never to late to revive and reassess the joint venture business arrangements to sent the message that wrong doing will not be tolerated even long after the ink on the deals have dried up and Sabahans caused to lose their assets.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency should reopen the files! Freedom from such politicians will automatically provide freedom from many such evils like corruption because present-days’ politicians incorporate in themselves all such evils!

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BY LAVINA MELWANI

With the Booker Prize announcement just two days away, American academics weigh in on the nominee who appears to have become the next big Indian crossover novelist.

She’s been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She’s on the longlist for the National Book Award. Her new novel, The Lowland, has been reviewed everywhere, from The New York Times to the most obscure little blog.

Few writers of Indian origin command this kind of fanfare in the West, except perhaps Salman Rushdie. There’s little doubt that Jhumpa Lahiri is a literary rock star. But is she the next big Indian writer after Rushdie, in terms of international standing?

Homi K. Bhabha — the Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of English and American Literature and Language, and the Director of the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University — is puzzled by this question. “How are Jhumpa Lahiri or even Salman Rushdie ‘Indian’ writers? That is not their fundamental experience. If anything, Lahiri is among the leading writers in English who have a very cosmopolitan experience.”

Bhabha points out that Rushdie moved to London as a schoolboy, studied at Cambridge and has lived most of his life in the west. Lahiri too has lived her life in the U.S. with brief visits back to India. “She knows how to weave plot and character with great subtlety; she has a way of understanding the psychological agony that people suffer in certain social conditions. She is a remarkable observer of human interaction and of how relationships are made, and she has a very finely tuned sense of place in her work. This is why she’s a great writer, not because her parents happen to be Indian.”

Yes, we Indians do tend to claim anyone who has even an ounce of Indian blood as ‘Indian’ and revel in their success, no matter where they live! While Indians and Indian-Americans are quite thrilled with Lahiri’s meteoric rise, what is remarkable is her crossover appeal, with translations into 30 languages. Perhaps what connects readers most to her is that, in spite of her talent and luck, she is, in many ways, just like them.

She has had early rejections, she has struggled with name, identity, duty and self, family ups and downs and her place in the world. She has been a daughter, a wife, a mother — and the emotions and discoveries of those realities have seeped into her work. She can articulate those gains, losses and longings better than any of us and we are grateful to her for that, for she is a diarist of our lives.

“This is a novel as affecting in its Chekhovian exploration of fathers and sons, parents and children as it is resonant in its exploration of what is acquired and lost by immigrants and their children in pursuit of the American dream,” wrote The New York Times about The Namesake.

Lahiri would be the first to question her title as an ‘Indian’ writer. She has always eschewed labels, of ‘Indian’, ‘Asian’, ‘Multicultural’ — and prefers the stark, simple title of ‘writer’.

Deepika Bahri, Associate Professor of English at Emory University in Atlanta, says, “I would say it’s important to locate Lahiri where she is, which is within an Indian-American context. There are continuities in the two categories and we have to honour them, but it wouldn’t be fair either to Lahiri or to Indian writers to conflate the two categories. Indian writers in India would resent that because they should command their own space and, for her, it just wouldn’t be adequate to describe the canvas that she is encompassing.”

Indeed, Lahiri’s canvas has very specific cultural details of the lives of Bengali-American immigrants and it is these details that add humanity and make the story come alive even for people who are not part of that world, says Sunita Mukhi, Professor in the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies at Stony Brook University in New York. “These stories can be shared by many others who have a sense of displacement but who find a comfort and home in all these specific details of family life, food and fragrances.”

Mukhi has used Lahiri’s books in her class “Desi in the Diaspora”, where — although 60 per cent of her students are Indian — the rest are Latino, Blacks, Bangladeshi and other minorities. She found that all of them seem to relate to Lahiri’s work, especially to The Namesake: “They identify with her. She is articulating a lot of their anxieties and their despair of being of desi descent and living in America. Many who read the same book and are not necessarily Bengali, can begin to understand the culture of displacement too.”

Yet, her continuous pursuit of these themes has its detractors too. One reader tweeted: “Tired of her one-track immigration angst. She has been writing about not belonging for 15 years now! Getting old now!”

Bahri says: “I find that objectionable. Would you lay that charge on Jane Austen? There are thousands of stories to be told about these lives. She shows how dynamic and internally diverse culture can be without succumbing to this great seduction of tradition or the romance of Indian values, while still showing how it might matter.”

What Bahri does have a critique about is the fact that Lahiri is a little disingenuous when she says she’s not accepted as a true American, given her extraordinary success in the marketplace and her great appeal in the American literary world where she operates very much within an American tradition of writing.

With the advent of Lahiri’s new novel The Lowland there seems to be fresh debate on her writing style as well as whether she is a better writer of short stories than of the novel. Randy Boyagoda wrote in The Financial Times, “Booker or not, The Lowland is awash with Lahirical excess.” Porochista Khakpour in the Los Angeles Times writes about her “passionless restraint”: “In Lahiri’s fiction even when there is some blood on some hands, it’s like watercolour blood, non-threatening and even comely. Sometimes that is magical and other times it feels dishonest.”

Bhabha makes an insightful point about Lahiri and Rushdie: “It is the strength of these writers that having some kind of Indian cultural background largely through their families has opened them up to really appreciating the complexities on a world scale. Whatever it is that’s passed down to them through their families with an Indian aspect has made them voracious for experience on a global scale.”

Indeed, Lahiri actually lives what she writes about — and that perhaps is the secret of her appeal to readers everywhere: she has a hunger for embracing the world and new experiences.

As she told Salon magazine recently: “To a certain degree, all four books are visiting and revisiting a certain migration pattern, in terms of what the characters are doing. That is something I’m less interested in continuing to explore right now. I feel — I want to look elsewhere, and look at things differently.”

Forsaking her parochial Brooklyn neighbourhood, much like her parents leaving Kolkata, she now lives in Rome with her husband Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, a senior editor at Time magazine. Far away from everything familiar, she is starting to write in Italian and exposing her two American-born children Noor and Octavio to a life of dislocation — and discovery.

So is she the next big ‘Indian’ writer after Rushdie? Maybe not. But she’s certainly a writer, who like Rushdie, attempts to swallow the universe whole and claim a global citizenship.

Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who writes for several international publications and blogs at http://www.lassiwithlavina.com. Twitter @lassiwithlavina. Google+ the author.


This is a comment piece by my friend Joe Fernandez on yesterday’s highly anticipated debate between two former Chief Ministers – Tan Sri Harris Salleh and Datuk Yong Teck Lee.

by Joe Fernandez

COMMENT If there are any lessons that emerged from a “non-debate”, of sorts, between two former Chief Ministers of Sabah on a cold rainy Fri evening in Kota Kinabalu, it was this: “that ignorance is bliss in matters of law, Parliament and the Constitution and that a little knowledge is dangerous”; that even the best subject matter expert opinion would have little chance against a wall of ignorance acting in perhaps good faith and with little else to go on.

Siapa yang makan cili akan rasa pedasnya!

If the cap fits, wear it!

Moderator Simon Sipaun, a former Sabah State Secretary, had his hands full keeping Harris Salleh, 83, from interrupting his opponent Yong Teck Lee, 55.

The debate was supposed to be about Sabah’s rights in the Federation of Malaysia which entered its 51st year on 16 Sept last month. Fifty years of Malaysia, in particular in the Borneo nations of Sabah and Sarawak, is a watershed year. The word out in the streets in Borneo is that there must be some form of consensus on the way forward. If the past 50 years is any indication, the people want no more of it.

Harris and Yong, going hammer-and-tongs against each other offered little help here. Yong was more than willing to help forge consensus on a way forward but for the most part Harris refused to play ball. He took no baits.

Harris, chief minister from 1976 to 1985, was the past which refuses to go away and offered little clues in forging a way forward for the next 50 years.

Yong brings up four issues for Debate, Harris only one

Yong, chief minister from May 1996 to April 1998, had to concede at least in his heart that he had little chance to begin with against Harris in their impromptu debate on Fri 11 Oct, 2013 at the Sabah Golf and Country Club in the Sabah capital.

He was “out-done” by Harris on all fronts in a way that only the latter could do: dismissed in a few words and sentences; or otherwise berated and out-shouted when it came to the law, Parliament and the Constitution. Yong did most of the talking; taking up his full 15 minutes allotted for every issue, while Harris did not go beyond three minutes each time on each issue.

Yong is a British-trained lawyer. Harris had only six years of school education.

One story making the rounds is that Harris was once offered a place as a mature student to do the Bar in London but apparently dropped the idea when another student in a similar situation as him gave up the idea after three years in the British capital. It must have been the English language. Had Harris completed his Bar, perhaps he could have had a better idea of the difference between Rule of Law and Rule by Law and that the Constitution is not so much about law but the ultimate political document.

Yong had four issues to bring up during the Debate: the 20 Points (20P)/1963 Malaysia Agreement (MA63); the Petroleum Development Act/Oil Agreement; the surrender of Labuan island to the Federal Government; the power grab incident and the street riots which broke out in Kota Kinabalu in 1985 when the Berjaya Government headed by Harris was thrashed by the 45-day old Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) led by Joseph Pairin Kitingan in state elections that year.

Yong pledges to “shoot himself” if White Paper on SAS implicates him

Harris merely wanted Yong to explain to the crowd why the shares of the state-sponsored Saham Amanah Sabah (SAS), a unit trust, had fallen from its initial RM 1 offer price and was now hovering at about 0.35 sen. Harris felt that Yong, as a former Chief Minister, owed a duty of care to the 66,000 SAS holders – mostly Chinese housewives — saddled with bank loans in buying their stake.

Yong explained that Bank Negara (Central Bank) rules prohibited political interference and involvement in SAS or any unit trust. In short, he had no role in the misfortunes of SAS, no matter how much he sympathized with the stake holders. Yong’s successors have since tried injecting Sabah Government assets into SAS, in a bid to boost the unit trust price, but to no avail.

The SAS issue remains a political hot potato and Yong has paid a heavy price for it. In General Elections this May, his PBS-breakaway Sabah Progressive Party (Sapp) failed to win even a single seat in the Federal and state legislatures. SAS was by no means the only reason but that’s another story.

Yong wants the Sabah Government to release a White Paper on SAS and pledged twice, dramatically with a fore finger to his head, that he would “shoot himself” if the White Paper on the SAS found any wrongdoing (criminal) on his part.

Harris denied that the street riots of 1985 were masterminded by the losing Berjaya leaders who allegedly hired illegal immigrants to go on a rampage of burning and general mayhem.

He admitted, in downplaying the riots, that there might have been “a little burning” but was rebutted by Yong waving pictures of the incident from the newspapers and pointing out that a curfew had to be imposed. The latter also stressed that local Muslims – Dusun and other Orang Asal (Natives), Suluk, Bajau and other Muslims – were not involved in the riots “meant to pressure the Federal Government into declaring a state of emergency” to facilitate the take over of the Sabah Government from PBS.

Mustapha failed to persuade Court on early bird theory

Harris attributed the riots to the “Malay Muslims’ being cheated by PBS in not forming a coalition government with United Sabah National Organisation (Usno). Harris is Brunei Malay on his mother’s side. His father was Indian. There are very few Malays in Sabah.

The “cheating”, Harris claimed, was behind the infamous power grab incident which saw Usno and Suluk leader Mustapha Harun clambering over the walls of the Istana (palace) in the wee hours of the morning and having himself sworn in as Chief Minister.

Usno, defeated by Berjaya in 1976, came in with 17 seats in the 1985 state elections, Berjaya had six and PBS took 25. The power grab incident saw Usno and Berjaya disingenuously forming a coalition Government together with six nominated state assemblymen. Mustapha, explaining the power grab, said that “the early bird catches the worm”. He was ousted within days by the Court which he tried to persuade with the “early bird” theory.

Harris cautioned the crowd against referring to every Tom, Dick and Harry in Sabah as an illegal immigrant. He pointed out that the present Governor was a Suluk, yet the Suluks in Sabah – and also the Bugis among others – were being referred to as illegal immigrants. He claimed that the Suluk – people from the southern Philippines like the Bajau — had been in Sabah the last 500 years and the Bugis (from Celebes, Indonesia) have also been here for a very long time.

Whenever Harris came up short in the argument, he had one constant piece of advice for Yong throughout the debate which turned out to be a stormy affair that lasted three hours: campaign hard throughout Malaysia, win two thirds majority in Parliament, amend the Constitution, and reinstate the 20P and the MA63 to set up a “banana republic” and/or win independence for Sabah and Sarawak.

He offered to be Speaker of the new Sabah Parliament, proposed his former Berjaya Deputy Mat Nor Mansor — a Brunei Malay now with Sapp – as the Sultan of Sabah and Yong as Prime Minister.

Parliament Supreme and can do anything on 20P/MA63

For Sarawak, he urged Yong to look around for a Dayak leader to be the new Rajah of that country in echoes of the Brooke Dynasty of white rajahs from England (1841 to 1941) who once ruled there for some 105 years.

It was Harris’ considered opinion that the 20P and MA63 no longer matter, that they had either been incorporated in the Federal Constitution or done away with through amendments in Parliament and in the State Assembly. He did not mention any part of the 20P/MA63 being excluded from the Federal and State Constitutions.

Yong begged to differ and wants the Sabah Government, for a start, to amend the State Constitution and restore Sabah’s status as a Negara (nation) in the Federation, a key point in the 20P.

He explained that he could not do anything on 20P/MA63 during his term a Chief Minister as the Federal Government was very powerful at that time and the “window of opportunity” did not present itself until the 2008 General Election when Sabah and Sarawak came centre stage as the Kingmakers in Parliament.

He echoed the popular view that that there was no Malaysia without 20P/MA63 which formed the basis for both Sabah and Sarawak to be in the Federation with Malaya. He wants the letter and spirit of both constitutional documents on Malaysia to be upheld, honoured and respected. His plea if true will fall on deaf years, Harris retorted.

Both Speakers did not touch on the need to interpret the intention of the framers of the various constitutional documents on Malaysia in a manner which reflected as if they contained a Basic Features Doctrine i.e. the 20P/MA63 could not be amended out of the Federal and state constitutions, done away with or not included.

Harris wants to take on Jeffrey Kitingan on colonisation

Sensing that the mood of the crowd was definitely against him, Harris denied that he was consistently taking a pro-Federal Government line on Sabah.

He claimed disingenuously in a simplistic brief that he was more concerned about the thinking among the people in Sabah on Malaysia. The Muslims, he stressed, would attribute their poverty to fate. The others including those in the kampungs (villages), he anguished, blamed Putrajaya for demolishing State rights – the famous 20P – and/or otherwise being in non-compliance on MA63.

Turning at one point on Bingkor State Assemblyman and State Reform Party (Star) chairman Dr. Jeffrey Kitingan, who was seated in the front row, Harris reminded him that he had no response to his offer in a local daily (Daily Express) to debate him and other activists on the issue of whether Malaya (Peninsular Malaysia) had been in colonial occupation of Sabah and Sarawak since the British departure in 1963. The issue is that there was no Referendum on the British leaving Sabah and Sarawak after their independence – 31 Aug and 22 July 1963 — in a Federation with Malaya on 16 Sept 1963, whether expanded or new.

Harris obviously feels compelled, even though long in retirement, to speak up whenever something doesn’t quite jell with his weltanschauung (worldview).

Jeffrey had no opportunity to explain that a Right of Reply delivered to the said newspaper by the UK-based Borneo’s Plight in Malaysia Foundation (BOPIM) chairman Daniel John Jambun was not carried by it until the Debate day. (It was carried the next day after the Debate almost a week late.)

“No one” held under ISA for opposing Labuan handover

Harris warned Yong at one time during the debate not to imply in any manner that he had sold Labuan Island, ostensibly to become an International Offshore Financial Centre, to the Federal Government. He challenged Yong to repeat any insinuations against him on Labuan outside the debate hall and promised to retaliate with a swift lawsuit against him. He mentioned that there was already a lawsuit pending in Court on Labuan and the matter was subjudice.

Harris stressed, in response to a question from the floor, that the question of seeking compensation for Labuan did not arise at the moment since the island was a losing concern. Similarly, the Sabah Electricity Board was handed over to the federal Government without compensation because it was another losing concern.

Harris denied that anyone had been held under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) for opposing the Labuan handover and dismissed a statement on the issue by one Darshan Singh from the floor. Darshan spent some time in detention without trial under the ISA apparently for opposing the Labuan handover. A lawyer in the crowd confided that he was standing next to Darshan when the latter was detained but escaped arrest, according to him, because he was “a Muslim”.

Yong disclosed that he was in Labuan on handover day and witnessed the Federal Reserve Units and Royal Malay regiments out in full force on the island to put on an intimidating display of brute force apparently to deter any opposition. It was a defining moment for Yong as he vowed then and there to enter opposition politics to oust the Berjaya Government.

Harris, not so long ago, picked up RM 1 million in Court-awarded damages from Yong in a defamation suit where the Judge held that the latter had implied that the former had “blood on his hands”. This was a reference to the tragic 6 June, 1976 air crash which wiped out almost the entire Sabah Cabinet led by Berjaya President Donald Fuad Stephens. Harris became Chief Minister by default and days later signed the infamous Oil Agreement with Petronas, the National Oil Corporation, and the Federal Government.

Harris, in response to Yong and questions from the floor, denied that he had been under any pressure to sign the oil agreement. Nevertheless, he disclosed that there was only RM 2 million in the kitty left by the ousted Mustapha Government. Signing the Oil Agreement meant an immediate cash infusion from Petronas in the form of Oil Royalty amounting to 5 per cent.

Besides, added Harris, Sarawak and Terengganu had earlier signed the Oil Agreements. If he had not signed, he ventured, “it would look as if Sarawak and Terengganu were stupid to do so”.

Harris claimed, in defending the Oil Agreement, that it was “international law” – at one time he even referred to the Law of the Sea – that onshore waters belong to Sabah and that the offshore belonged to the Federal Government.

Parliament Supreme and can do anything on 20P/MA63

He begged to disagree with Yong’s take that the boundary of Sabah was what it had at the time that it was taken/pushed by the British into the Federation of Malaysia. Yong, while not faulting Harris for it, also pointed out that the Oil Blocks L and M handed over to Brunei not so long ago were within Malaysia’s maritime boundaries in Sabah and Sarawak.

Harris showed little evidence during the Debate of the articulate self presented of him in the numerous press statements purportedly attributed to him in the local media, the Daily Express in particular.

Age, in any case, may be catching up with Harris in more ways than one. He had little patience with issues brought up by Yong, and in no mood to be apologetic, even displaying open defiance in taking a pro-Federal Government line in Sabah.

The crowd had turned up in the mistaken belief that Harris would concede that mistakes had been made during his time in public office and that he harboured more than his fair share of regrets.

On a plus note, Harris is willing to join the pro-20P/MA63 activists in Borneo if it can be demonstrated in any way that there’s probably a “cause for action” and that “any lost rights can be recovered”.

Parliament, he reminded, was Supreme and can do anything in explaining the perception that the 20P/MA63 had not been honoured. He failed to mention that the Veto Powers of Sabah and Sarawak in Parliament, a pledge under MA63, had been done away with by the Election Commission, the Attorney General and the Registrar of Societies.

Longtime Borneo watcher Joe Fernandez is a graduate mature student of law and an educationist, among others, who loves to write especially Submissions for Clients wishing to Act in Person. He also tutors at local institutions and privately. He subscribes to Dr Stephen Hawking’s “re-discovery” of the ancient Indian theory that “the only predictable property of the universe is chaos”. He feels compelled, as a semi-retired journalist, to put pen to paper — or rather the fingers to the computer keyboard — whenever something doesn’t quite jell with his weltanschauung (worldview) or to give a Hearing to All. He shuttles between points in the Golden Heart of Borneo formed by the Sabah west coast, Labuan, Brunei, northern Sarawak and the watershed region in Borneo where three nations meet. He’s half-way through a semi-autobiographical travelogue, A World with a View . . . http://fernandezjoe.blogspot.com/



Pope Francis may have been an unlikely successor to Pope Benedict XVI, but he is already emerging as a remarkable pontiff, one who has always led a simple life himself, who understands the kinds of lives led by many Roman Catholics, and who also knows the dangers of a remote clergy apparently more concerned with specific forms of orthodoxy than with the mission of providing a spiritual space for all of the faithful in our complex and troubled times.

That the Church of Rome faces serious problems is clear, with declining attendance and a shrinking priesthood, especially in developed countries, with widening rifts between followers’ attitudes in the developed and developing worlds, and with terrible scandals of child sex abuse, corruption, and incompetence which would have destroyed many a lesser institution. The Pope’s fellow priests probably know that very well, but the way His Holiness has responded to the situation is making the world sit up and take note.

In an interview with the Italian Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, which has been translated and republished in the American Jesuit journal America, the pontiff says the Church is “the community of God’s people.” Therefore, one of its first tasks is to recognise “how human beings understand themselves today.”

The Pope had already made waves by replying to a question on gay priests, “Who am I to judge?” but now he has gone further, saying that the Church must not “interfere spiritually” in the lives of gays and lesbians and that priests must not be obsessed with homosexuality, abortion, and contraception to the neglect of their wider mission, which is to proclaim and spread the “saving love of God.” Even the way that is done could be radically reformed; Pope Francis says local doctrinal issues are best addressed by local bishops’ conferences, with the Vatican available for consultation.

Furthermore, the pontiff is clear about a stronger role for women: “the feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions.” Just as radically, on September 22, the Pope told 20,000 listeners in Sardinia that the world must abandon its “idolatry of greed” and reform the global financial system.

Significantly, the Pope has not proposed changing the church’s line on homosexuality, contraception, and abortion — or on women priests — but he has reminded all the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics that if they do not end their obsession with those issues and start acknowledging humanity as it is today, the Church’s moral edifice could fall “like a house of cards.” For Roman Catholicism, His Holiness may well be a truly world-historic figure.